It amazes me sometimes how effective the general aviation user groups can be at mobilizing their members. By last Friday's deadline, almost 16,000 people had filed comments on the EAA/AOPA request to change the rules about flying without a medical. From the turnout I saw at my local polling place that same week, I'm guessing that's more people than voted in our statewide primary elections. Maybe our civic political machine could learn something from the GA strategy for getting people to the polls.
So what are the forces at work here, that motivated so many people to take action?
I'm sure immediate self-interest is an important factor. It might be hard to see a good reason to vote for one candidate vs. another, especially in local races, but if the FAA would change its regs in a way that would save you money or keep you flying, that's a pretty clear and immediate incentive to make yourself heard.
Another reason of course is, people are more willing to act when they believe their action will have an impact. It's not hard for a voter to believe that even if they vote for a great candidate, and that great candidate wins, that politician might not be able to get anything done. But apparently at least 16,000 people out there believe the FAA will listen to them and their opinions will make a difference.
Of course the advocacy groups need to get some credit. I doubt that 16,000 pilots on their own would have decided to write in, if it weren't for EAA and AOPA reminding them to do it.
And of course, pilots by their nature are a self-selected group of people who are smart, motivated, and pro-active enough to earn a pilot's license, and that likely makes them as a group more likely to step up and speak out.
So, while I was discouraged by the lack of interest at my local polls, I was heartened by the willingness of our fellow pilots to take the time and trouble to file their comments, which after all, isn't that hard to do, and beats whining about how things never change. Even if things don't change, at least you can say you gave it a shot.
This all gives me hope for our participatory democracy, hope that otherwise can be hard to come by in this election season.